Merced, Where California Stores Its Big Plans

Unfinished Dreams for High-Speed Rail and Higher Education Falter Statewide But Find a Home in the Central Valley 

Have any grand but unfocused ambitions? Have an idea but no strategy to execute it? How about any half-finished projects clogging up your garage?

Send them to Merced. That’s what the state of California does.

Perhaps this is because it’s so convenient: a city of 83,000 people in the center of the Central Valley, and so close to our most hallowed outdoor place that it’s called the “Gateway to Yosemite.” But whatever the reason, Merced is taking on a role as the self-storage unit for California’s abandoned dreams.

Earlier this month …

Take the ACE Train

A Small but Successful Commuter Line Between Stockton and San Jose Points a Way Forward for California Transportation

As the ACE Train pulls into the Santa Clara station, the conductor pops out—and begins apologizing for his train.

“I’m sorry, but this is not the Amtrak!” he bellows, loud enough …

The Ghosts of Mexico in Merced

My Grandfather's Disappearance Inspired My Film About the Dark Side of Immigration

I live in a forgotten region. Most Californians, if they know the Central Valley exists, forget it when they think of the state as a whole. Those that have been …

Merced Is My Village and It’s Looking Up

Murals, Pools, and District Elections Are Changing the Place Once Known As "Merdead"

I moved to Merced in 1990 when I was 20 years old. Back then the town had 57,000 residents, the Merced Junior College, Castle Air Force base, and a sense …

Where You Can Find Hmong Shamans, Oaxacan Tamales, and the Blues

In the City of Merced, Cultural Gems Come From All Over—But They Can Now Be Found on One Map

A wall of sound often emanates from an open classroom at the Merced Lao Family Community Center. It’s bagpipe-like and pulsating—the sound of a half-dozen boys practicing the qeej (pronounced …

Can a Rainbow Flag Change My Small Town?

The Opening of a Community Center for People Like Me Made Merced Feel Like Home Again

Growing up in Merced, I did not feel that the town was accepting of gay people, or of me in particular. People around my public high school would carelessly throw …